Portland Bulldogs Winter Sports Preview

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • -1

Last winter, for the third time in four seasons, Portland’s boys’ basketball team celebrated a state title. This winter, the Bulldogs have the pieces in place to do it again.

File photos.

More photos below.

BOYS’ BASKETBALL

Coach: Joe Russo (28th year, 401-146 overall record, five state championships)

2016-17 record: 19-2 (Beat South Portland, 60-38, to win Class AA championship)

Top returning players: Griffin Foley (Senior), Terion Moss (Senior), Manny Yugu (Senior), Pedro Fonseca (Junior)

Pivotal games: Dec. 12 @ Windham, Dec. 15 OXFORD HILLS, Dec. 22 BANGOR, Dec. 29 DEERING, Jan. 5 @ Edward Little, Jan. 11 SOUTH PORTLAND, Jan. 13 @ Scarborough, Jan. 19 @ Cheverus, Jan. 26 THORNTON ACADEMY, Feb. 2 CHEVERUS, Feb. 6 @ South Portland, Feb. 8 @ Deering

Coach’s comment: “The kids are very coachable and are working hard. We’ve had a good preseason. It’s nice to have some versatility this year. Our big guys can play inside or out. We only have three seniors who have played a lot. We know what to expect from Griffin and Terion. Pedro, Manny and Trey were role players last year. They’ll have to contribute even more this year. We’ll have to rebound by committee without Charlie (Lyall). We still need an inside presence. We have a tough schedule, but these guys are used to being the team to beat and they take it in stride.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland has been the model of consistency and excellence the past four years, winning 80 of 86 games and three state titles in that span, a stretch unprecedented in the program’s proud history. While Clay Hardy and Charlie Lyall will be missed, the Bulldogs still have plenty of firepower in reserve (as evidenced in Thursday’s season-opening 101-43 victory over Noble), including two of the very best players in the state and several others who could emerge as all-stars in the weeks to come.

Moss, last seen leading Portland’s football team to the regional final, has been a star on the hardwood since he was a freshman and now, as a senior, he’s ready to bow out with a performance that could garner him Mister Maine Basketball honors if all goes well. Moss, a first-team league all-star last winter after averaging 17.6 points, 3.6 assists and a league-high 3.7 steals per contest, will have the ball in his hands the majority of time and he can either get to the basket for easy hoops or set up his teammates in optimal spots. Moss set the bar high in the opener with a career-high 40-point performance (the third-best outing in program history). Foley, recovering from a football ankle injury, has shown his big-game chops time and again. He was a second-team all-star in 2016-17 after averaging 12.7 points per game. He’s deadly from behind the perimeter and can make big plays on both ends of the floor. Once he gets back to 100 percent physically, Foley will be impossible to stop (he scored 11 points on Opening Night). Yugu is a defensive standout (1.9 steals a game last year) who has the speed and elusiveness to leave the other team in his wake and Fonseca has power and is a good passer and defender (1.7 steals last winter). Fonseca and Yugu are coming off playing pivotal roles on a boys’ soccer team which fell an overtime goal shy of winning a state championship. Several other players are primed to play even bigger roles than they have in the past. Junior Simon Chadbourne made the SMAA All-Rookie team last winter and hit some huge shots in the Bulldogs’ title run. He’ll be a top shooter (10 points in the opener). Junior Trey Bellew is a force on the boards (5.6 rebounds per game last season). Senior Quinn Clarke, who played football and soccer this fall, can play guard or forward and is a great leader. Griffin Buckley is the backup point guard. Seniors Lino Ben and Ben Fisher will see time in the frontcourt. Junior Nate Kapongo, who turned heads on the gridiron this autumn, will see some minutes at forward. Juniors Lewis Gaddis and Derrick Ishami and sophomore Ethan Thea round out the roster.

Portland is the team to beat in Class AA and while Russo could live without wearing the bulls-eye, his charges will rise to the occasion. The Bulldogs could stumble a few times against a very tough schedule, but by the time February rolls around, Portland will be clicking on all cylinders and will be eyeing another Gold Ball. The Bulldogs have never captured three straight titles and no big school has managed that feat since Morse won Class A (then the state’s biggest class) every year from 1987-89. Portland would love to match the Shipbuilders and as arguably the state’s most historic program, would love to produce their own unique, impressive slice of immortality.

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

Coach: Gerry Corcoran (first year)

2016-17 record: 3-15 (No postseason)

Top returning players: Shayla Eubanks (Senior), Reagan Brown (Junior), Grace Stacey (Junior), Nettie Walsh (Junior)

Pivotal games: Dec. 9 @ Thornton Academy, Dec. 16 @ Oxford Hills, Dec. 28 DEERING, Jan. 2 @ Gorham, Jan. 11 SOUTH PORTLAND, Jan. 19 MAINE GIRLS’ ACADEMY, Jan. 26 @ Cheverus, Feb. 2 SCARBOROUGH, Feb. 6 @ South Portland, Feb. 8 @ Deering

Coach’s comment: “Things are coming together and we’re having a lot of fun. I’m just trying to find the right combinations. Athletically and with our nice mixture of returners and newcomers, we can go eight or 10 deep. With our athletes, we’ll be a pressing team. We’re not a great shooting team, so we have to work on that. We’ll play up-tempo.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: For a three-win team a year ago, Portland is certainly receiving an inordinate amount of preseason attention, but there’s a very good reason for that. Three good reasons to be precise, as the Bulldogs, who were already on the rise, have been bolstered by the addition of three new players from the Congo, who will immediately turn Portland into a squad that will be on the short list of Class AA favorites.

Junior Davina Kabantu, her freshman sister, Amanda Kabantu, and their cousin, sophomore Gemima Motema, are all highly touted. They’ve played at a basketball academy in their home country and after coming to a showcase in California, decided to stay in this country and live with a cousin who lives in Portland.

“You see them play and it’s like, ‘Wow!’ said Portland coach Gerry Corcoran, now in his first full season as head coach after replacing Jay Lowery last December. “The only reason they came to Portland and not Deering is because their cousin lives closer to Portland.”

The Bulldogs have been the recipient of good fortune and now have a chance to take advantage of it. Motema plays guard, Davina Kabantu is a guard and Amanda Kabantu is a guard and top defender. They will complement several returning players, including Walsh, the point guard, Eubanks, a captain and forward, Brown, a post presence, and Stacey, a captain and guard. Mix in junior guards Amanda Moffo and Molly Page, sophomore center Kiera Eubanks and sophomore guard-forward Callie Watson and you can see why other teams won’t be looking forward to playing Portland.

Despite their talent, the Bulldogs still have work to do, but this team’s upside is tremendous. Watching the newcomers show off their skills will be a highlight of the season. Portland’s experienced players want to get to the postseason and make a deep run. It’s been 19 years since the Bulldogs have reached a regional final, 21 since they played in a state game and three decades since the program’s last Gold Ball. All of those droughts could soon become a thing of the past.

BOYS’ HOCKEY

Coach: Jeff Beaney (third year, 16-21-1 overall record)

2016-17 record: 11-8-1 (Lost, 5-2, to Falmouth in Class A South semifinal)

Top returning players: Joe Herboldsheimer (Senior), Cam King (Senior), Alex McGonagle (Senior), Jake Luce (Junior), Donnie Tocci (Junior), Miki Silva (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Dec. 16 @ Scarborough, Jan. 1 @ Cheverus, Jan. 6 @ Falmouth, Jan. 11 YARMOUTH, Jan. 13 CHEVERUS, Jan. 20 SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 25 FALMOUTH, Feb. 8 ST. DOM’S, Feb. 15 BIDDEFORD

Coach’s comment: “We have to replace some great players, but the guys are excited to get back out there. We’re not starting with an empty glass. I’d call it half-full since I’m optimistic. We’re further ahead than we were at this time last year. I look for our sophomores and juniors to take a step up. We have a big crop of freshmen. The program took a big step last year and we’d like to take the next step.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Portland/Deering co-op team had a very exciting and successful campaign in 2016-17, getting to the semifinals for the first time since 2003, earning Beaney Coach of the Year honors. While some standout talent departed, the cupboard isn’t bare and Portland/Deering should be in the thick of things again this winter.

Tocci, a first-team all-star a season ago, will be a top defender and he can put the puck in the net as well. King, McGonagle, junior Bay Smalley (a transfer from Cheverus) and freshman Max Cheever also help anchor the defense in front of new junior goalie Ben McCallum, who replaces Sam Segal. Offensively, look for Herboldsheimer, Luce and Silva to do damage, along with freshmen Nick McGonagle and Dante Tocci.

Portland/Deering is in a very tough region, but it boasts enough talent to get back to the playoffs and if all goes well, return to Lewiston for the biggest games of the season. Keep a close eye on this squad. It will be fun to watch.

GIRLS’ HOCKEY

Coach: Tom Clifford (first season)

2016-17 record: 1-17 (No postseason)

Top returning players: Mikayla Fortin (Senior), Maeve LeClair (Senior), Kit Rosmus (Senior), Inez Braceras (Junior), Maddy Danse (Junior), Elena Clifford (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Dec. 9 CHEVERUS, Dec. 14 @ Falmouth, Dec. 16 @ Cape Elizabeth, Dec. 20 SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 1 @ Cheverus, Jan. 15 CAPE ELIZABETH, Jan. 17 @ St. Dom’s

Coach’s comment: “Our goal is to improve as a team each time we take the ice. Our team chemistry, work ethic and attitude have been really encouraging. I have great kids and the returning players have done a good job bringing the new players on board. The new kids have to play big roles and I’m confident they’ll step up. We don’t have a lot of depth, so the hope is to stay healthy. We hope to be in a position to make a push at the end of the year for a playoff spot.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Portland/Deering co-op team has the pieces in place to be dramatically improved this winter. The program welcomes a new coach in Clifford, who previously coached the South Portland boys. He inherits a team which matched last year’s win total with a 9-3 victory over Brunswick in the opener before falling to powerhouse Greely (12-1) and in overtime to York (7-6) and beating Yarmouth/Freeport (10-4). This squad will only get better in the weeks to come.

On offense, junior Emily Demers, a transfer from North Yarmouth Academy, had quite a debut, scoring six times in the win over Brunswick. The forward already has 11 goals and is joined as top scoring threats by veterans Braceras (a captain, who has scored three times), LeClair (a captain, who has two goals), Rosmus and freshman Caroline Lerch and Margaret Smith, who both have two goals to date. Elena Clifford, Danse and Fortin are top defenders. They’re joined by freshmen Kim Clifford, Lucy Howe and Emma Merrill. Senior Adrianna Bodge is the goalie. She’ll be spelled at times by freshman Anna Gannon.

There’s a buzz around this team and it knows it will be able to compete in a challenging region. Portland/Deering has shown it can put the puck in the net. If it can tighten up defensively, it could make a run at a winning record and could earn a playoff spot for the first time since 2011-12 and just the second time ever.

INDOOR TRACK

Coach: Bill LeRoy (first year)

2016-17 results:

(Boys) 22nd @ Class A state meet

(Girls) Tie-24th @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Keller Nicolai (Senior), Joe Harrington (Junior), Will Brewster (Sophomore)

(Girls) Ella Altidor (Senior)

Coach’s comment: “Our numbers are good. We don’t have a lot of experience, but we have eager, young athletes. I want to continue to grow the program to eventually be competitive with the top programs. We’d like the kids to show consistent improvement and place a few at states.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland has some athletes to watch this winter as LeRoy, who has coached in the spring, replaces longtime coach Carroll Nappi as the head man. He has some talent to work with.

The boys feature distance runners Brewster and Harrington, along with Nicolai, who hopes to score in the shot put. This group will score some points in the regular season and could break through at the state meet.

On the girls’ side, Altidor is a top returner. She could score in the sprints. Junior Jaidyn Appel (jumps), sophomore Lucy Medd (distance) and sophomore Noelle Walker (jumps) add depth and could make some noise as well. Don’t be surprised if Portland enjoys a higher finish this February.

SWIMMING

Coach: Morgan Dorsey (second year)

2016-17 results:

(Boys) 9th @ Class A state meet

(Girls) 23rd @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Reed Foehl (Senior), Trevor Tucker (Junior), Josh Ying (Junior), Kent Bonney (Sophomore), Max Orchow (Sophomore)

(Girls) Ava Giaquinto (Junior), Amanda Theall (Junior), Julia Ayer (Sophomore), Corry Hemond (Sophomore), Amelie MacDonald (Sophomore), Fiona Silva (Sophomore)

Coach’s comment: “We’re a young team, but I’m excited to watch our growth over the season. I expect the boys to have a strong showing at Southwesterns and the state meet.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland boasts some promising swimmers this winter.

The boys have finished in the top 10 in Class A each of the past two years and could be a force to be reckoned with again. Foehl is the top returner. He placed third in the individual medley and fourth in the breaststroke a year ago and will make a run at the top spot this winter. Ying could post a high finish in the sprint freestyle. He’ll also compete in the breaststroke and butterfly. Bonney (distance freestyle), Orchow (sprint freestyle and fly) and Tucker (freestyle) also return, while junior Will Couture, who took last year off, is back with the team and will compete in the backstroke and freestyle, while joining Foehl as a captain. Freshman sprinter Benjamin Moritz-Jones is new to the team and adds depth. Look for this group to make some noise throughout, especially in February.

On the girls’ side, Giaquinto is the top returner. She’ll look to score in multiple events (freestyle, fly, IM). Giaquinto is joined as a captain by Theall, who swims distance freestyle. Ayer, Hemond, MacDonald and Silva also have experience. Freshmen Molly Johnson, Annika Nelson and Hannah Prue are new to the team and add depth. The Bulldogs have the potential to move up the standings.

NORDIC SKIING

Coach: George Aponte-Clarke (first year)

2016-17 results:

(Boys) 6th @ Class A state meet

(Girls) No score @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Robbie Sheils (Junior), Liam Niles (Sophomore)

(Girls) Elizabeth Thomas (Sophomore)

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland, which is joined by Cheverus and Deering to make up the Portland Nordic co-op team, hopes to produce some top-notch individuals this winter.

The boys’ team returns Niles, who was 11th in the skate at the Class A state meet a year ago. Sheils is another returner to watch.

On the girls’ side, Thomas is back after placing 15th in the classic a year ago. She’ll make a run at a top 10 finish.

WRESTLING

Coaches: David Elowitch and Tony Napolitano (16th year)

2016-17 results: 18th @ Class A state meet

Top returners: Qasim Abdullah (Senior), Klein Ngoga (Senior), Zack Elowitch (Junior), Hussin Al-Saadi (Sophomore)

Coach Elowitch’s comment: “This is a step-up year for our program, which is now a co-op team with South Portland. We have 26 kids on the roster, the most in recent history. We’re on track to fill all 14 weight classes, which is a major advantage in dual meet formats. Qasim, Klein and Zack give us great experience and strong leadership. Zack’s goal is to compete for a state championship come February.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland’s wrestling program, which won the Class A Sportsmanship Award last winter, is poised to make a leap up the standings this season.

Zack Elowitch (152 pounds) will be among the best in the state and could steal headlines in February. Abdullah (132 pounds), Al-Saadi (138) and Ngoga (145) have experience and are also looking for big things. Several newcomers will also be heard from. Freshmen Anthony Napolitano (106), Tyler Brown (120), Shamus Cole (126) and Malcolm Gartland (182) all look to make an immediate impact.

Expect the Bulldogs to do very well in the regular season and build confidence for the big meets. There, Portland has what it takes to finish in the top 10 with Elowitch and perhaps others, being among the last wrestlers standing.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Senior Terion Moss is viewed as one of the state’s best boys’ basketball players. He and his teammates are poised for another triumphant season.

Senior Griffin Foley is another standout, who will knock down a lot of big shots in the weeks to come.

Junior Pedro Fonseca has seen some key minutes in his first two seasons and will play an even bigger role on this year’s squad.

Senior Manny Yugu is a top defender and is a tough matchup due to his speed and skill.

Shayla Eubanks is a key returner for a Portland girls’ basketball team that is poised to be one of the best teams in Class AA this winter.

Junior Nettie Walsh will serve as the Bulldogs’ point guard.

Junior Donnie Tocci is a top returner for the Portland/Deering boys’ hockey team which hopes to make another deep playoff run this winter.

Jake Luce has scored some big goals the past couple seasons.

Miki Silva had a strong freshman campaign and is another top returning scorer.

Senior captain Maeve LeClair and her teammates on the Portland/Deering co-op girls’ hockey team have high hopes this winter.

Senior Ella Altidor will be a top sprinter in the league.

Junior Zack Elowitch will make a run at winning a state title for Portland’s surging wrestling team.

-1
Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.